To help provide balance to this debate, I want to make the case for the other side. I will do so in a series of posts. In this post, I summarize the arguments (good and bad) for legalizing marijuana. I plan show why most (but not all) of these points go up in smoke when we apply logic. Throughout this series of posts, I seriously question why keeping the ban on marijuana might be good policy.
Regardless of where you stand on this issue, you should recognize that there are two logical sides to the legalization debate. I hope this series of posts conveys that.
Arguments for Legalization
In a nutshell, the best argument for legalization is that an illegal marijuana market gives potential suppliers motivation to fight over market share. Unlike legal markets where suppliers fight over consumers using the weaponry of lower prices and better quality, suppliers in illegal markets fight over territory using actual weapons. Dealers are breaking the law already by selling drugs, so they might as well break the law with flair and use it to their advantage. Legalization would quell these conflicts, and perhaps, give drug-selling gangs less of a reason to exist.
There are numerous other reasons people give for legalizing marijuana. Here is the sampling of reasons for legalization that I have heard in the week since my last post. I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones I plan to address first.
- A ban on marijuana puts peaceful people in jail, whereas our resources could be better spent elsewhere.
- People are in favor of it. Nearly a majority (41%) of Americans support legalization.
- Taxing and regulating marijuana will certainly raise loads of tax revenue.
- Marijuana is less harmful to people than alcohol. Yet, alcohol is legal.
- Rogue organizations set up marijuana plantations in national parks, damaging the environment. Such operations would no longer exist if marijuana were legal.
The case for legalizing marijuana is compelling. In particular, I believe that prohibition of marijuana leads to gang violence. To this argument, the best counterpoint is a question: This reason for legalizing marijuana also would have applied to legalizing crack cocaine in the early 1990s. Don't we need to know more about the effects of marijuana to make an informed policy choice? Indeed we do, but I'll leave that discussion for a future post.
In this post, I address the logic behind arguments (1) and (2) for legalization.
1. The ban on pot puts peaceful people in jail.
This argument is rooted in the observation that marijuana users are typically peaceful. I think this perception arises from the fact that pot users typically become calm while on the drug. Such a loose argument bothers me, so let's tug at some strings. Even if the drug is illegal, do the laws on the books really put recreational users behind bars? A quick Google search provides the answer: not likely. Though laws vary from state to state, the standard penalties for a first offense of possession of marijuana are probation, community service, and drug counseling.
On the other hand, if someone is convicted of possession with intent to sell, that's a more serious offense, which likely comes with considerable jail time. But, isn't possession with intent to sell a much more serious offense than merely using the drug? If someone really intends to sell marijuana, he likely falls into the category of people who are fighting over users. That's no endorsement for being a peaceful druggie.
My impression is that, by default, commentators portray pot dealers as peaceful (i.e., they're only dealing marijuana, so what's the problem?). This is bad logic and I think it is misleading. As an example, look at this editorial, which makes reference to two brothers' arrest for dealing a ton of marijuana (that's an actual ton, 1000 kilos). The title clearly conveys how the author feels: "jailing peaceful druggies a big waste." I think we're entitled to wonder who these "peaceful druggies" are.
Minimal further investigation demonstrates that the so called "peaceful druggies" from the article, Ross Landfried III and Noah Landfried, were not really that innocent after all. For example, this article describes how these brothers were heading a marijuana-trafficking ring that also sold cocaine. This article describes how one of the brothers, Ross, was implicated in a cocaine and ecstacy trafficking bust seven years earlier. After the earlier bust, the state Attorney General displayed the "pillow-sized packets of cocaine at his Pittsburgh office."
Maybe it is the scale of the operation or maybe it is the repeat offense, but I'm beginning to think that these particular druggies were not so peaceful after all. More generally, people who are willing to break the law to sell marijuana do so because they do not mind breaking the law. By and large, this selects people who are not peaceful. Maybe marijuana users are peaceful, but it is quite unlikely that marijuana dealers are. And, when we look at who serves the most jail time on account of the pot ban, it is dealers, not users.
2. The people favor legalization (According to a CBS poll, 41 percent of Americans support legalization).
This is one of four arguments put forth by the Marijuana Policy Project for taxing and regulating marijuana. It is the worst argument I have ever heard. Period. That includes arguments for other things, not just legalizing marijuana.
This is such a bad argument because support for an idea is irrelevant to whether it is a good idea! The consequences of any action are the same regardless of the level of support for the idea. To see why, think back to our last election. It clearly would not matter if Barack Obama received 90 percent rather than just over 50 percent of the vote. More votes do not make him a better president. That's why you don't see people sitting around saying, "Man. I wish I voted for Barack Obama now. Look, he might have put together a better stimulus package if I did vote for him." In the very same way, more support for legalizing marijuana does not imply that it is good policy.
That's it for now. I plan to address the logic behind some other arguments for legalization in a future post on Wednesday 20 May 2009. There will be posts after that.
I'm interested in hearing your comments. Are there arguments for legalization that I left out? Are there any arguments for legalization you think I should consider? Please let me know. I want this discussion to be as open and balanced as possible.